Chinese efforts, during the last year, to force U.S. naval forces to operate farther away from the Chinese coast, have suddenly disappeared. All these actions, often involving threatening moves by Chinese military and non-military ships against non-Chinese military ships, disappeared. There was no announcement, but it was apparently a reaction to the international community protests against earlier efforts. The concept of keeping foreign warships far away from Chinese shores is very popular with most Chinese, and not acceptable to Americans. China wants the U.S. to keep its military ships and aircraft 371 kilometers from the coast (the distance international law recognizes as the "economic zone"), rather than 22 kilometers (the distance international law recognizes as "territorial waters"). Ignoring international agreements on this subject, China seemed determined to bully the U.S., and other navies, into backing off to the 371 kilometer line. In response, the U.S. led an international refusal. It's been pointed out that this aggressive Chinese policy could lead to an accident (an aircraft or ship opening fire), which has the potential for escalation. For over a year, China appeared willing to take the risk, confident that a major escalation could be avoided. But now, an even more prudent policy has been adopted.
Meanwhile, the Chinese navy is becoming modernized, more than it is being made larger, and is now more capable of operating far from the Chinese coastal waters. This makes China more of a threat to neighbors with which it has maritime territorial disputes (especially in the South China Sea). India is upset about the growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.
More frightening to neighboring nations is China's growing confidence with its rapidly modernizing military. While the official Chinese position is that their defense spending (second highest in the world, at about $100 billion) is purely for defense, China also points out that as the second largest economy in the world, it has global assets, and trade routes, to defend. Officially, China plays down the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and on the Indian border. What scares these neighbors the most is that China now has military capabilities it has not had for centuries, and no one is certain how these new powers will be used.
The Chinese are also having a hard time convincing the world that China is not starting an arms race. Experienced military analysts do understand that China has not mass produced, at least at "arms race" levels, many of its new weapons. Indeed, most of those new ships, aircraft and tanks are produced in only in sufficient quantities to replace older stuff or for extensive testing. Thus the Chinese are not staging an arms race as much as an arms upgrade. Most Chinese military equipment is still a generation or more (usually more) behind what is used in the West. What China is doing is rapidly developing the ability to design and build high tech weapons and equipment. The Chinese apparently feel that it's more effective to keep developing new stuff, and not spend a lot of money on building ships, and other expensive weapons, that will soon be obsolete anyway.
Chins is spending more on personnel, even as it reduces the number of people in uniform. A third of all military spending goes to pay and benefits, another third goes to training and maintenance and a third goes to procurement. The Chinese military is more international. In the last year, there have been 44 joint training operations with foreign troops. There are nearly 20,000 Chinese troops involved in overseas peacekeeping missions.
China has warned foreign journalists, and its own citizens, that no emulation of the "Arab Spring" demonstrations will be allowed. The few attempts at holding demonstrations were quickly shut down. Real or potential demonstration leaders are in jail, and foreign journalists who did not get the message (to ignore protests) were expelled. Very efficient. China is not just a communist police state in name only. China is openly against attacks on other dictatorships, and constantly criticizes the NATO attacks on the Libyan Kaddafi dictatorship. Professional courtesy among tyrants and all that.
The thought police have also gone on the offensive. There's another massive crackdown on the Chinese Internet pornography industry, and producers of TV and movie fare have been warned to stay away from a new list of subjects, like fantasy and time-travel. Apparently the censors fear these genres could be used to create anti-government messages. Same with prohibitions on using Chinese medieval and ancient imperial themes in advertising. The bans extend to foreign artists. A recent (and the first) visit by American folk singer Bob Dylan featured a government approved list of songs that Dylan was allowed to sing. Missing were all the protest songs of the 1960s that made Dylan a legend in the first place. For many Chinese, and Bob Dylan as well, all this is really about the government reminding everyone who is really in charge.
Meanwhile, Chinese Internet based espionage continues, but with growing push-back. This war is very much fought in the shadows. Little in the way of details reaches the media. But there are growing complaints inside of China of someone using the Internet to spy on Chinese firms and government agencies. These might just be Internet based gangs seeking secrets to sell, or it might be China's many victims (of years of Internet espionage) fighting back. Quietly.
April 15, 2011: Taiwanese military spending is 2.7 percent of GPD, a value that has been declining in the last decade, although absolute spending on defense has recently increased. Meanwhile, Chinese spending, in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP has increased over the last decade. Taiwan is depending more and more on the United States for defense against China.
March 31, 2011: A major earthquake and tsunami in Japan temporarily crippled the Japanese armed forces. There was some direct damage, as in a major northern airbase being heavily damaged (by the quake and tsunami) and over twenty aircraft damaged or destroyed. Dozens of other bases suffered some damage, and for weeks, most troops were involved in disaster relief to one degree or another. This impact will be temporary, but for several months it has been substantial.
March 18, 2011: Taiwanese intelligence revealed that China had deployed a new ballistic missile, the DF-16, with a range of nearly 1,000 kilometers and better able to evade anti-missile missiles. No more information was forthcoming from China.